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Being there while you are here : an artistic study of blended presence shaped by new mobile technologies

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Scheffer, JC ORCID: 0000-0002-7262-2517 2018 , 'Being there while you are here : an artistic study of blended presence shaped by new mobile technologies', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

My project is an artistic exploration of aspects of human behaviour that emerge from the ordinary use of electronic mobile devices. Smartphones and other kinds of modern gadgets, which are fast replacing desktop computers, are changing our understanding of what it means to live with computers and bridge the different kinds of environments — virtual and physical — in which we live. Mobile electronics are gradually transforming the ways in which we engage with the physical and virtual worlds we inhabit. While this change has been studied in the fields of social science and computer science, and to a degree in artistic practice, the effects of mobile device use on a sense of presence have seldom been the subject of artistic study. In this project I have explored and critically interrogated some characteristics of the effects of mobile device use on the human experience of presence. My enquiry has relied on the use of portraiture, performance and modern electronic devices; I developed artworks based on the technology-related habits of a number of participants with the aim of uncovering complementary aspects of this particular kind of presence.
The outcomes of the project contribute to the field of artistic practice that takes interest in the relationships between humans and computers. Artistic works that investigate human ways of being in a computer world, such as Camille Baker’s MINDtouch and Julien Prévieux’s What Shall We Do Next, have provided a background for my investigation into the effects of screen-based technologies. The artistic research project Curious Rituals (Nova et al.) has offered valuable information in relation to the mundane effects of computers on people, and recent photographic series by Martin Parr, and emerging artists Kala and Dörr, have helped situate my project in relation to current artistic practice and concerns. The works of Evan Roth, Jhoane Baterna-Pataña and Matthew Sleeth have further contextualised my investigation by exploring obsessive, discreet and absurd aspects of ways of being that are associated with mobile devices. More specifically related to the kinds of presence that emerge from the use of screen technologies, works by Gary Hill, the Blast Theory collective and The Builders Association reveal subtle aspects of the effects of such technologies on people; those works are complemented by the photographic series of Matthew Pillsbury and Eric Pickersgill, which engage more directly with the effects of everyday screens on human presence. Writings by media commentators Marshall McLuhan, Steven Johnson and Howard Rheingold add to my contextual framework by calling attention to the increasingly essential role of computers in our lives, while more specific effects of modern technologies on human presence and attention are discussed in academic publications by Giannachi & Kaye and Ingrid Richardson. I also refer to the written works of Lev Manovich, Paul Dourish and Adriana de Souza e Silva to consider the cultural significance of modern interfaces and their role in articulating our transition between environments.
My research has led to the production of five artistic works that question aspects of the kind of ‘being there’ shaped by our relationship to, and use of, mobile devices. These works reveal that this kind of presence can be thought of as fluctuating, as it continually shifts between physical and virtual realms, and as unsettled, due to the constant availability of a coexisting realm to the mobile device user. The works unveil the notion of background presence and offer an understanding of the experience of ‘being there’, as encountered from the perspective of mobile device users and from that of onlookers, as well as an appreciation of the ambiguous relationship that exists between the two.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Scheffer, JC
Keywords: art, smartphone, portraiture, presence, mobile, technology
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Copyright 2017 the author

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